Hopeless Heat Tools, among other things

Other than the ‘keeping it on the left’ thing, there are a number of differences we have noticed in the way they do life here in New Zealand that differ from the way things are back at home in Canada.

For one, pedestrians do not have the right of way; vehicles do.  This significantly affects ones safety as a pedestrian, and it is very important to not only look both ways, but make sure you are looking the right way before crossing the street!  On the plus side of this, j-walking is definitely not an illegal offense here; it is just done at the pedestrian’s own risk.

When pedestrians are given the signal to go, though, they GO.  It is pretty much a free-for-all at downtown intersections, with people crossing every-which way.

I’ve noticed a definite lack of the use of heat tools here in Auckland.  You don’t see a lot of people with straightened, or even styled hair- a lot of people tend to use the wash and go method, and I am beginning to understand why.  With the rapidly-changing weather here in Auckland, it can literally be sunny one minute and raining the next, followed by periods of intense wind.  After experiencing a couple days of this weather, I understand how the use of heat tools can seem somewhat futile.  I mean, you take the time to nicely do you hair in the morning, and all your efforts are out the window with the first unexpected rainshower.  Heat tools… not as practical here.

One of the first things we noticed upon arriving in Auckland were the trees.  Brendon, having worked 3 summers at a tree farm, has developed quite a fascination and interest in trees, and has since passed this fascination on to me.  We were both intrigued by the interesting varieties and unique specimens of trees here in Auckland.

Stores and cafes all shut down pretty early here, around 4:30pm, which must make it hard for people who work during the day to get stuff done.  Grocery stores stay open a bit later, along with restaurants.  There are laws here against working overtime, and I wonder if the early closing has to do with that.  I am also curious to know if the overtime laws contribute to healthier and happier families over here, with parents who are not working as much.

Oh, and we were surprised and slightly concerned to find eggs in crates on the regular store shelves and not in the refrigerated section.  Apparently, eggs don’t need to be refrigerated here.

Just a few of our observations in our first week and half here in Auckland!


Four Wheels, Endless Possibilities

After several days of hunting for cars online and perusing used car lots, we are pleased and excited to introduce our new set of wheels!  We found this extremely cute ’93 Suzuki Alto online on a website frequently used by Kiwis called “Trade Me,” which is similar to the North American version of Kijiji.  A kind neighbor living here in the dorms at Laidlaw College gave us a lift over to go check out the car, and it was love at first sight.

For a ’93, the car was in impressive shape.  The smooth, flawless paint finish, clean, cozy interior, and purr of the engine were a definite draw.  Though not the most spacious of vehicles, tiny cars seem to be all the rage here, and we figured that this car would do just great getting us where we needed to go.

On our test drive, we discovered that the car also comes with a unique feature: Just below the cassette player, where one would expect the clock to be, there is instead a display that counts the number of minutes you have been operating the vehicle.  A luxury feature, which we will surely indulge in.

The pink flower decals on the back sealed the deal, and we decided that she would be ours.  While taking our car for a good spin around town, we deeply pondered what a good name for this vehicle might be.  Taking into consideration the vehicle’s compact size, youthful qualities (such as the horn, which honks with the zest of a new toy car), and prominent flower decals, we affectionately named our car Shea, after our 2-year old niece’s first doll, Baby Shea.

Where will our new car take us?

The possibilities are truly endless.

For now, though, we are very thankful and relieved to put an end to car-hunting, and to have wheels to get around to do the things that we need to do.  Having Shea will definitely make tasks like looking for a job and a place to live much easier.

One Tree Hill

After a physically and emotionally draining day of car-hunting, our spirits were lifted by a visit to One Tree Hill.

We were surprised and slightly taken aback to find that there was more than one tree on the hill, but the hike to the top was purely magical.

Our first encounter with the famed New Zealand sheep was cordial, and both parities, I feel, came away with a feeling of satisfaction and content.

Mel was a bit nervous at first but was soon calmed by the sheeps’ fascination with the many tasty varieties of grass.

I suppose that we didn’t really expect there to be many sheep in the city, but with all the talk about there being 3x as many sheep as people, I guess taking almost a week for a sheep encounter is a fairly long time.

The many trees on one tree hill were just lovely; all shapes, sizes, textures were accounted for.

As we watched the sun set from one of the highest points in the city, there weren’t a lot of words to be said.  It was a moment filled with wonder, thankfulness, and peace at being in this new place.  We reflected on being far from home, but at the same time, how cool it will be to live in this place for a little while.

North Shore Explorations

To live in a place surrounded by an endless number of beaches to explore pretty much feels like a dream.  Wanting to make the most of our rental car, we decided to make a little trip up to North Shore, one of the “cities” within Auckland, to explore the beaches there.

Our first stop was Takapuna Beach.  Most of the beaches along the east part of North Shore look out to Rangitoto Island, which is the volcano-like mass you see in the distance.

After a quick stroll on the beach, we headed out in search of a cafe at which to find some good coffee for Breno.

Jam Organic Cafe caught our eye.  We enjoyed the fresh decor and vibrant atmosphere, and were intrigued by their tasty menu.  They served up an alright capuccino, too, and we both agreed that we’d like to come back here sometime to try out some of their tasty menu items.

We stopped to enjoy our lunch and a few moments of sunshine at a beach just up East Coast Road, Mairangi Bay.

Can you spot the dead shark head in this picture?

There it is!

Disgusting, I know.

There was a cool rock ledge and walkway that wrapped around the cliff from Mariangi Bay to Rothesay Bay.

We eventually made it to Long Bay, which was quite long indeed with soft, luscious sand.  We even got in a few minutes of basking here, before the weather changed again.

We definitely enjoyed visiting these North Shore beaches, but have a feeling that New Zealand is keeping her greatest beaches to herself right now, until we get to know each other a little bit better.


Living in a land with so many beaches so near, I was eager to explore them ALL.  While we didn’t quite complete our country-wide tour of New Zealand beaches yet, we have now visited several.

We drove out to Piha (pronounced Pee-ha), a beach located on the western shore of New Zealand, to take in some of the action of the World Junior Surfing Championships happening out there.

The drive to Piha was truly memorable, and slightly sketchy.  Extremely narrow, winding roads, were engulfed in a canopy of lush greenery that made you feel like you were driving through a rain forest.  With no shoulder on the road, the plants on the roadside were constantly brushing your car if you kept it in your lane.  There were many blind turns, and constantly-changing weather conditions.

Breno did what he does best though, he kept it on the left, and we arrived safely to a (momentarily) sunny Piha with breathtaking views.

The massive rock formations, powerful waves, and soft black sand surrounded by a lush valley of tropic, with the added dramatic effect of the changing weather conditions, made for a truly epic visit to Piha.

The views at Piha got even more amazing once we hiked up one of the ridges to get a better look at the surfing.

Due to bad weather, our young Canadian surfer-friends did not get the chance to compete that day, but assured us that they would do their best to represent our homeland in the competition tomorrow.

More to come on Beaches soon!

Comments on Coffee

The espresso scene in Auckland is pretty huge.  Or should I say that Flat Whites are.  Flat Whites are pretty much the equivalent of the North American Latte, and are definitely the most popular hot beverage out here.  That being said, there are a ton of places serving espresso, but not necessarily good espresso.  Almost any venue that serves food also serves espresso; we’ve seen many a sign for “Burgers and Coffee,” “Kebabs and Coffee,” and “Music and Coffee,” and I’m sure there’s got to be a “Donairs and Coffee” sign out there too.  The Kiwis seem to love their coffee with… pretty much anything.

With the high volume of cafes, we have definitely had fun searching for the hidden gems of the coffee world in Auckland.

One we checked out recently was Ben.  Ben is a small, trendy cafe on Fort Street in Auckland owned and operated by none other then Ben himself.

Ben even does the roasting too, all with this little Deitrich roaster.

Ben seemed like a great guy, and served Brendon a satisfying espresso with notes of intense dark chocolate and toasted nut, along with a cold tottie which was extracted over 3 days.  Thanks, Ben!

Breno has already started to get connected in the coffee scene here, and I am proud of him for being so bold and eager to make connections and get to know people in this industry.

Here’s Brendon with some words on the coffee scene in NZ, as well as on the Barista Jam:

Talking coffee with coffee people is a great time! I don’t fully understand it but I think it has something to do with a level of common understanding, and passion for the glorious bean or something.

I was invited by Auckland’s reigning top barista (David Huang of Espresso Workshop) to come out to Center of Gravity Coffee Bar for a jam of sorts of some of the city’s top baristas.

We were joined by Andrew Pearson who is the head trainer for one of the largest specialty roasters in the country that supplies many shops.  Robot, Dingo, and Sam were hanging out as well. After the introductions were made, I found out that nearly all of them are preparing to compete at the upcoming Regionals next month, and they wanted to make gatherings such as this a more regular occurrence to practice, throw out ideas, and get feedback from one another. Center of Gravity had two four-group La Cimbali espresso machines, and was a pretty sweet basement coffee set up.

Talking to these guys made me realize a few things: First was that Transcend has trained me with knowledge and skills to be able to relate and input my opinion with some amazing baristas from over here. Second is that specialty coffee in North America has a broader use and maybe therefore a broader appreciation of Coffee. Let me explain this. NZ is all about espresso, using coffee for other brew methods is an afterthought. Also with talking to these guys the customer here orders flat whites as mel mentioned above. A few people order espresso (short black) or americano’s (long black), but even most of the baristas in Auckland drink flat whites. I have only found one cafe that will serve syphon (BEN) and one allpress location with a pour over station, but other than that there is no demand for is so there is no cafe’s that seek to do it or do master it. This 20 years of drinking flat whites in the NZ coffee industry is frustrating to David who wants to branch out and educate his customers that coffee can be amazing if prepared correctly without any milk in it at all. He also knows that there are certain coffee that doesn’t shine as an espresso, but that doesnt mean it isnt good coffee, just that it should be prepared in another way.

By having this conversation with these guys it made me realize that even though there is a wider appreciation for coffee here in NZ there may be deeper appreciation by those people who drink all brew methods of coffee. Anyways just initial thoughts and I will have to keep getting connected to see if this truly is that case, but i sure could go for a clover of the gayo about now!

Keep it on the Left

Our second day in Auckland, we rented a hot Toyota Corolla from Jucy rentals, and named her Helen, after Helensville, a place in Auckland we kept seeing signs for on the motorway, as well as her “momly” appearance.  Keeping in mind Chad Moss’ wise words, “Keep it on the left,” Brendon bravely pulled out of the parking lot and ventured out with the freedom to go wherever our hearts so desired.  First stop: A convenience store to purchase a good map.  Second stop: Espresso Workshop.  Breno was caffeine deprived at this point the day, and we had to get some espresso into him- fast.  It was there that we met David,  the current Auckland Regional Barista Champion and cafe owner.  David invited Brendon out to participate in a “barista jam” happening tomorrow evening.  After downing some espresso and green tea, we headed off to our Third Stop: Mission Bay.

I was craving a beach at this point, and although it was slightly breezy, this definitely hit the spot.  The waters were warm and turquoise in color, and the sandy beach was heavily scattered with shells of all sorts- a shell collector’s paradise!  Mission Bay had a similar feel to Sylvan Lake back home, with many ice cream shops and cafes lining the street across from the beachfront.

While we were there, we happened to stop in on the opening ceremonies for the World Junior Surfing Championships, which were happening on the beach.  We happened to have met the coach and one of the Team Canada surfers on the plane ride over from L.A., and cheered on our mighty homeland surfers as they posed for a picture.  After enjoying lunch and a stroll out at Mission Bay, we headed back into the city for a Fourth stop: Ponsonby Street.

Ponsonby is quite a long street lined with a plethora trendy boutiques and restaurants, which I would liken to Whyte Ave in Edmonton.  A great street to stroll down, we found a place to eat at called the Belgian Beer Cafe, and shared a pot of very large muscles in a cumin, coriander, and coconut sauce with pomme frites.  A tasty celebratory dinner!

Brendon will attest to the statement that driving in Auckland has definitely been an adjustment.  Not only do they drive on the other side of the road here, but pretty much everything in the car, with the exception of the gas pedal and the break, are reversed.  There were many a moment where the windshield wipers would go on instead of the signal light.  Even as pedestrians, we find ourselves having to be very careful to check for oncoming traffic in the right directions.  Overall, Brendon did great with his first day driving in Auckland, though, there were no crashes or major incidences, and I think it will get easier by the day.  For now, we’re just trying to keep in on the left.

Oh, and thumbs up for the use of heat tools again!  A simple plug-in adaptor purchased from a hardware store across the street gave us access to the electrical outlets.

A Warm Welcome to Auckland

We made it!  After 24 hours of travel, including a 13-hour flight from L.A. to Auckland, which was a fairly pleasant experience, all things considered- with the exception of the in-flight coffee (which tasted like greasy, fat, stale, dirty potatoes), we arrived in our final destination of Auckland, New Zealand!  Upon arrival, we were greeted with warm, moist air and a fragrant, floral aroma.  Since it was still quite early in the morning in Auckland, we decided to stop and chill at a retro bus cafe that was set up outside of the airport. Brendan’s first shot of NZ espresso was alright, a little lacking in body and sweetness, but not bad.  It felt great to have finally made the long trek to the other side of the world, and we were very thankful to have had no problems or delays with customs or flights.

After taking a shuttle to Laidlaw College, where we would be staying for our first while in Auckland, we dropped our bags off in our room and were given a tour of the campus.  In many ways, Laidlaw College reminds us of our once-beloved home, Taylor University College, only slightly bigger and more tropicale.  Though we hope to find a new place to live when Mel gets a teaching job, our one-bedroom suite will do just nicely for now, and has a lovely patio surrounded by tropical plants and flowers.

Our first day in Auckland, we set out to get to know the city that would be home for a little while. We caught a bus downtown, (surprisingly very expensive), and set out on foot to explore the local shops and scenery along the bay and downtown core.   We were pleased to find that Auckland is a city full of unique cafes and espresso bars.

The first great welcoming experience we had was at a little cafe called Toasted Espresso on High Street. There was probably only seating for 10 max, and it had a small menu with a few sandwiches, salads, and baked goods. We ordered a cap and a pumpkin and feta salad, had a seat, and started chatting. The barista, Ben, and owner, Marita, were very friendly, and not only was the cap real nice and well made, but after finding out I was a huge coffee nerd and barista, who was fresh off the plane, Marita made us try some NZ scones. First the cheese, then the raisin pecan!  They were fantastic, and we are very thankful for the great hospitality and warm welcome we received from our new friends at Toasted.

Here are a few of the other sights that intrigued us during our first spin around Auckland…

The Bay downtown

Massive tree

Both naturally and architecturally, Auckland is a beautiful city.  We were fascinated not only with the gigantic, exotic trees and turquoise waters, but also with the buildings downtown.

Clock tower

We were also pleased about the high number of scooters on the streets of Auckland.

And yes, there are palm trees. 🙂

I think this place is going to do just fine.

Goodbyes and a Hello

Our last week in Edmonton has been filled with many hugs, many last goodbyes, many boxes, and many emotions.

Thanks for coming early!

While there is lots to say goodbye to, we were thrilled get the chance to say HELLO to our new nephew, Wyatt Patrick Schmitt, who made an early entrance into the world on Tuesday, January 12, just so he could have the chance to visit with his Auntie Mel and Uncle Breno before we go.  So sweet of you, Wyatt!!

We feel so blessed to be surrounded by such amazing people in our lives.  If people could strike gold with friendship, I truly believe we have.  The support and excitement of loved ones has been a huge encouragement to us through the times of nervousness and mixed-emotions.  We were greatly touched by the kindness of friends who threw goodbye parties in our honor, as well as those who offered to help out in various ways, and are sad to leave people who have become so dear to us, though likely just for a little while.

Our car is sold, and our basement suite is quickly becoming empty.  With only 2 days left til we depart, I am fairly certain that our next update will be from the shores of New Zealand!

Two Weeks

After celebrating an early Christmas with Mel’s family in St. Albert, we headed East to spend Christmas with Brendon’s family out in West Quaco, New Brunswick. It was a lovely time of sitting by hot fires in the wood stove, eating Flannigan Fancies, and drinking coffee while gazing out at the ocean. We were encountered a wide variety of weather conditions while we were out there, but are lucky to have made it home before the big winter storm hit the East Coast provinces this weekend. And that leaves us with two weeks. Two weeks to finish packing, tie up loose ends, fit in last visits, and say goodbyes before heading out on this crazy adventure. As we prepare to leave people that we love, and what is familiar and comfortable, it is definitely a time of mixed emotion. We appreciate your prayers for us in this time as we prepare to step into something new.